Alma Katsu’s highly acclaimed Taker Trilogy will come to an end in January with the release of THE DESCENT. The author answered a few questions for THE BIG THRILL about what it was like to write such an unusual series and what comes next in her writing career.
Tell us about THE DESCENT
THE DESCENT is the finale to The Taker Trilogy. The trilogy starts with Lanore McIlvrae using magic—magic she doesn’t understand—to try to bind a faithless lover to her, only to find that she’s damned them both to an eternity with a mysterious man with otherworldly powers, and it’s up to her to free them. The struggle between the three characters spans over two centuries, several continents and, in THE DESCENT, takes them to their final battleground: the underworld.
That’s the pocket description but it doesn’t begin to cover it. The one thing most readers say about the books is that they’re unlike anything they’d read before. So while it’s been compared to INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE and Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER, and THE HISTORIAN it’s not exactly like any of those books. It’s got elements of historicals, fantasy, paranormal, romance, and suspense but it doesn’t belong in any of those genres. I think that ultimately readers find it a pretty satisfying experience, nonetheless.
What makes The Taker books so suspenseful? It’s not a quality that you’d necessarily expect in a work of fantasy and history, yet the point seems to come up a lot in reviews.
That’s a fair question, especially when you consider that The Taker books combine long historical flashbacks with a present-day storyline, and long flashbacks are not known for driving a story forward! Still, for instance, BOOKLIST said THE DESCENT was “utterly impossible to put down” while HISTORICAL NOVEL REVIEW said THE RECKONING, the second book in the trilogy, “grips you from start to finish.”
There’s one pretty unconventional reason why the books are so suspenseful: while the books have a supernatural element to them, unlike genre fantasy where you enter a world that’s already fully formed—for instance, in a vampire novel, you more or less know what the “rules” are—in The Taker Trilogy the secret behind the magic isn’t revealed until the very end of the last book in the series. That’s right: the mystery isn’t revealed for over 1,100 pages. The reader is presented with these mysteries and has to make sense of them, just as you would in real life.
I think a lot about keeping up the level of tension when putting together a story. As a matter of fact, I’ll be teaching a session on creating and sustaining conflict and tension in fiction at Craftfest in 2014, as part of the WRITER’S DIGEST bonus sessions.
You used to work in the intelligence community—an unusual occupation for a fantasy writer—but have said that was one of the reasons The Taker took ten years to write.
That’s right. Part of those ten years overlapped with 9/11 and as you can imagine, it made for a pretty busy time. During the planning for the Iraq War, I was working at the Pentagon, in OSD (the Office of the Secretary of Defense)—a pretty strange provenance for a book like The Taker! It was hard to squeeze out the hours to work on the novel but somehow managed it keep going.
So will your next book be a spy novel?
No, I haven’t had a chance to write the espionage thriller yet! I just finished revisions on a new standalone novel that’s similar to The Taker books in that it mixes historical and fantasy, different in that it’s more set in the modern day and is more up-tempo and even more thrillerish.
Thank you, Alma, for speaking with THE BIG THRILL.
Alma Katsu’s debut, THE TAKER, was named a Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 by the American Library Association. THE RECKONING, the second book in the trilogy, was published in June 2012, and the third and final book, THE DESCENT, will be published in January 2014. Ms. Katsu is a graduate of the Master’s writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University, where she studied with novelist John Irving. She also attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Prior to publication of her first novel, Ms. Katsu had a long career as an intelligence analyst for several US agencies and is currently a senior analyst for a think tank.